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Guardiola: Premier League title race similar to Barca-Madrid battles

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola believes the Premier League title race is similar to what he experienced when battling Real Madrid with Barcelona in LaLiga.

Guardiola won three league titles in four seasons at Barca, holding off Madrid on each occasion before the capital club clinched the crown in 2011-12.

The Spaniard sees similarities in England, where City trail Liverpool by a point through 16 games, although Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal are also well in contention.

Guardiola said the pressure of needing to win almost every game was comparable to his experience at Barca.

“It’s quite similar, it can have that feeling, it’s just trying to win every game, you are in front, try to keep the moment, the players know it,” he said.

“Not just Liverpool – Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, [Manchester] United can join us. We knew it from the beginning, everyone had that feeling, everyone had it. We had the feeling not just Man City but others – maybe we are going to drop a few points.

“But the feeling is quite similar, Madrid was always demanding a lot, we have to win and we knew it.

“We can lose games against Real Madrid but we had to win against the others – or we are not able to win the title – 99 points, 96 points, a lot of points.”

City host Everton on Saturday and can put the pressure back on Liverpool, who welcome Manchester United to Anfield a day later.

Guardiola said his team needed to capitalise on every opportunity, with Liverpool aiming to win a first league title since 1990.

“Liverpool and United, the two biggest clubs, 27 years without winning it is many years, I’d say the challenge is to their own history, for them it’s important, but they’re a top side, a top team for the last year,” he said.

“Eight or nine years playing really well, so competitive and losing few points.

“I don’t know the feeling. They are going to drop few points so we have to be there to be close to them and catch up to them.”

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Chelsea vs Manchester City – Match Preview

 

The biggest clash of the weekend takes us to West London as Chelsea play host to Manchester City, a couple of weeks ago this could have been billed as a fixture with very high stakes in terms of this season’s title race.

However, that billing will have been downgraded slightly by the fact that Chelsea have lost two of their last three league outings, while that dip in form has also seen them cede some serious ground to the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool.

Maurizio Sarri’s men come into this game lying fourth in the Premier League table and you could almost argue that their hopes of winning a second championship in three years are over before the turn of the year.

That is because they find themselves already 10 points behind this weekend’s opponents City and when you consider that Pep Guardiola’s men are still unbeaten this season, it then begs the question as to how a gap of that size can be bridged.

One way to go about it would be to pick up all three points on Saturday evening, but with City in the mood they are in as of late that is a task that is easier said than done. Especially when you consider Chelsea’s recent dip in form.

Their plight was certainly helped on Wednesday as they were handed a defeat by promoted side Wolves at Molineux. Previous to that game the EFL Champions had only picked up a single point out of 18 that were available.

And it looked as if their winless streak was to continue when the Blues went ahead through England international Reuben Loftus-Cheek. However, Nuno Esiprito Santo’s men dug deep and found the kind of performance they were displaying in the opening months of the campaign.

Two quick fire goals for the hosts turned the game on its head as Chelsea looked toothless in attack once more. That defeat may well push Maurizio Sarri into the transfer market next month as Alvaro Morata continues to struggle in the final third.

There have however been no such issues for Manchester City as they continue to set the pace this season, Tuesday night saw them travel to Vicarage Road to face Watford and although it was a tougher contest than previous editions, they still beat the Hornets by two goals to one.

It was a game that displayed just how much strength in depth this City side have, Guardiola has never been afraid to ring the changes and especially with so much football on the horizon this month it proved a smart decision.

There is every possibility that City could start the game lying second in the table, something that will manifest should Liverpool get the better of Bournemouth earlier in the day. Should that happen then it will give the defending champions extra impetus in this fixture.

Not that they will necessarily need it as they seem ready to crush any opponent that dare stands in their way. Chelsea will undoubtedly offer a sterner test than most, but the end outcome will be the same and that is another win for Manchester City.

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Manchester City vs Bournemouth – Match Preview

 

Manchester City finished the opening third of the Premier League season two points clear at the top, that said we all know that you cannot win the title this early in the campaign.

The challenge now for Pep Guardiola’s men is to continue their impressive form throughout the hectic Winter schedule and beyond.

Next up for them is the visit of a Bournemouth side who are having no trouble mixing it with the top sides and will look to throw a spanner in the works of a City side who are almost making light work of anyone who dares get in their way at present.

The most recent example of this was when they made the trip to the London Stadium to face West Ham and it is fair to say that the Hammers will be sick of the sight of City after they were dealt another crushing defeat by them last Saturday.

It was just the four goals that West Ham conceded this time around in a game that was all but over before half time and if City were in a more ruthless mood then they could have just as easily added a couple more goals to the final tally.

Not only are they winning games with real ease as of late, but they are also giving very little away at the other end. They go into this game with a goal difference of plus 35 already, if they keep that up throughout the season then they will finish nearer plus 100.

That is the measure of just how rampant this team has been and it’s a run of a results that will have Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe wondering just what kind of setup he opts for when the two sides square off at the Etihad.

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Wolves vs Manchester City – Match Preview

 

Wolves are still searching for their first win of the Premier League season and although they have only picked up one point from a possible six that are on offer, they can at least take a huge amount of confidence from their initial efforts.

However, the worry is that although they are easy on the eye there is every chance that they might not be ruthless enough when it really matters in the final third of the pitch. Manager Nuno Espirito Santo has said there is still a lot of work for the club to do, and it is work that starts this weekend.

It must be said it will be incredibly hard work though as the team that won the EFL Championship last season play host to the defending Premier League champions Manchester City, a team that have picked up where they left off last time around.

It is almost as if they have not had a break from last season as they have already hit top gear in these first few weeks of the campaign, something that was clearly evident when they dismantled Huddersfield at the Etihad last Sunday.

A 6-1 win which on another day could have been double figures, usually with results such as these you have to ask yourselves whether the winning team were fantastic, or the losing team were just abject.

To be honest the credit has to go to Pep Guardiola’s all-star line up as they ran roughshod over a hapless Huddersfield. Straight from the off they had pinned their opponents back as they gave a fantastic display in free-flowing football.

Something that was clearly evident by the way Benjamin Mendy was marauding forward as an auxiliary winger. This is a player that was purchased as left back last season but has been causing opposition defences a nightmare instead.

The hero of the hour was undoubtedly Sergio Aguero who eventually got his hat-trick in the second half after first being denied by a combination of woodwork and Huddersfield ‘keeper Ben Hamer who had an afternoon to forget.

The dilemma for Pep Guardiola will be whether or not to rotate his squad and give Gabriel Jesus a start instead, the transition would no doubt be seamless but when a player is in that good form it would almost be remiss to make changes such as those.

Whoever starts up front will certainly aim to give the Wolves defence a headache and the home side will be hoping that they can be buoyed by what is sure to be a sell out crowd at Molineux on Saturday.

Whether the team that ran away with the Championship last season can get anything against the Premier League counterparts I am not too sure. This Manchester City team is just far too hot to handle right now.

This is not the game that Wolves will be judged on and if they keep playing as they do then their first win will not be far away, however all signs point to the visitors making it three league wins and continuing their 100% start to the campaign.

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Klopp: I don´t mind facing Manchester City in Champions League

Jurgen Klopp says he does not mind being drawn against Manchester City in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, though he expects Liverpool to be the underdogs.

The Reds will host the Premier League’s runaway leaders at Anfield on April 4 before the return leg at the Etihad Stadium six days later.

An all-Premier League tie will capture the imagination, with Liverpool the only team to have beaten City in the top flight this season.

“I’ve said it before and it’s still the truth,” Klopp told Liverpool’s website. “It’s always common in a draw that you’ll get your neighbour, more or less, but to be honest I don’t mind, really.

“It is exactly like it was before – we take what we’ve got. Now it’s Manchester City, let’s go.

“We’ve lost once and we’ve won once against them in the league, and I don’t think [beforehand] they thought the best draw they could have got is Liverpool. That’s a sign for us and how strong we can be.

“We are for sure not the favourites in this round, but in the last eight there are not a lot of favourites – maybe two of them, Bayern [Munich] and Barcelona – but thank God it’s football and nothing is decided.

“We have a few games to play until then, but I am really looking forward to it and we will give it everything.”

City arguably have an advantage having been given the second leg at home, but Klopp – whose six wins against Pep Guardiola are more than any other manager – denied playing at Anfield first is a negative for his side.

“In this case, it’s not too important. For us, it’s completely normal,” Klopp said. “We can get a result at home for sure, but it’s obviously a difficult game – but good news for both teams.

“It is like it should be in the last eight. It was clear we would face a strong team. Now we have Man City. The good thing is they are the team we know most about. It’s not too cool for England because now only one team can go to the semis. But we will try everything.

“We are already looking forward to [the first leg]. And it’s a nice, short trip for our supporters when we go to City. I know our away fans are fantastic, so that will be a great atmosphere as well. They are two really good games and a big challenge for both sides – but that’s like it should be.”

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I was right to turn down Man City move in 2016, says Laporte

Aymeric Laporte said he was right to initially turn down Pep Guardiola and Manchester City in 2016 before joining the Premier League leaders in January.

French defender Laporte swapped Athletic Bilbao for City in a club-record £57million deal last month.

The 23-year-old, who remains uncapped by France, appeared set to link up with Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium 18 months earlier but the deal fell through.

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s EFL Cup final against Arsenal, Laporte said: “I was injured and I didn’t think it was the right moment for me to come here.

“The injury complicated things a bit but I knew that if I kept working hard, the chance would come as City knew the potential I had.

“I know what I have to do and what I had to work on.”

Laporte said: “I wanted to join City mainly because of the mister. I have already learned a lot from Pep in the short time I’ve been here. He’s such an influential figure in the world of football.

“Then I looked at the team he has and there are so many young players at a similar age to myself, and that was a major factor in my thinking.”

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Wigan Athletic 1 Manchester City 0: Grigg ends Guardiola´s quadruple dream

Will Grigg ended 10-man Manchester City’s bid for an unprecedented quadruple as League One Wigan Athletic stunned the Premier League leaders with a 1-0 win in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Wigan famously beat City by the same scoreline in the 2013 FA Cup final before dumping them out of the same competition the following season.

Even so, the prospect of Paul Cook’s current Latics vintage repeating the dose seemed a fanciful notion against a City team who have been imperious at home and abroad over recent weeks.

But Fabian Delph altered the complexion of the contest with a rash challenge on Max Power – the England international’s first-half red card meaning his is set to miss Sunday’s EFL Cup final against Arsenal and subsequent Premier League matches against the Gunners and Chelsea.

Referee Anthony Taylor approached Delph with a yellow card in his hand while being harangued by Wigan players and that seemingly contributed to the angry reaction from City’s players and bench when the left-back’s dismissal was confirmed.

As was to be expected given the abundance of excellent ballplayers in Pep Guardiola’s side, the numerical disadvantage did not stop them dominating possession, but an error from Kyle Walker allowed Grigg to bring the house down 11 minutes from time and book a quarter-final home tie against Southampton.

Sergio Aguero almost gave City a third-minute lead but headed over when he stole in front of Dan Burn to meet Bernardo Silva’s cross from the right.

Ilkay Gundogan then forced Wigan goalkeeper Christian Walton into a sharp save down to his right before the hosts showed their capabilities as an attacking force.

Right-back Nathan Byrne bustled into the box and a loose ball trickled under Danilo’s boot, forcing Claudio Bravo to fling himself at Gary Roberts’ feet.

More poor work from Danilo allowed Grigg to get the run on John Stones and fire into the side netting.

An apparent hamstring injury forced off former Manchester United midfielder Nick Powell, interrupting Wigan’s momentum, and City should have led when record signing Aymeric Laporte failed to convert Gundogan’s flick-on from Leroy Sane’s 26th-minute corner.

A similarly glaring miss came when Fernandinho smashed Stones’ knockdown over and City were left to regret such profligacy when their task became taller on the stroke of the interval. Walton saved well from Aguero and, after Wigan partially cleared the resulting corner, Delph dived in over the ball on Power to earn his red card.

The enraged Guardiola brought on Walker for Sane at the start of the second half, moving Danilo to the left-back slot Delph vacated.

Clear chances were proving hard to come by for the depleted City and Guardiola introduced Kevin De Bruyne with 25 minutes remaining.

Gundogan was unable to turn in De Bruyne’s corner five minutes later and the Belgium midfielder’s arrival lifted the intensity.

Aguero’s touch let him down after De Bruyne raided down the Wigan left, leaving Grigg to cast himself as the match-winning striker when Walker inexplicably let Elder’s pass run under his boot.

Still with plenty to do, the Northern Ireland favourite kept his cool to slot his seventh of the competition past Bravo and claim a place in FA Cup history.

Wigan survived a couple of late scares and the full-time whistle sparked wild scenes of celebration as many home fans jubilantly invaded the pitch.

Key Opta facts:

– Wigan have now beaten Manchester City each of the last three times they have played them in the FA Cup.
– Will Grigg scored his seventh goal in this season’s FA Cup – more than any other player.
– Pep Guardiola’s side failed to score for only the third time in all competitions this season, with Wolves in the EFL Cup and Crystal Palace in the Premier League also keeping them at bay.
– The Latics have now progressed past Premier League opposition in the third, fourth and fifth rounds of the FA Cup this season.
– City have been knocked out of the FA Cup by a side from the third tier or lower for the first time since the third round in 2004-05 (a 1-0 reverse against Oldham Athletic).
– Fabian Delph’s sending off was the ninth in all competitions for Manchester City under Pep Guardiola – only Watford (10) have seen more among Premier League clubs in that time.

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Liverpool v Manchester City: Stoic Sterling returns to Anfield bound for glory

Raheem Sterling looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him up.

Manchester City took a 1-0 lead after half-time in the 2016 EFL Cup final at Wembley through Fernandinho. As Yaya Toure and David Silva surged at a porous Liverpool defence before the hour, Sterling had the chance to definitively silence his tormentors.

The England winger’s £49million switch from Anfield to the Etihad Stadium in July 2015 had proved acrimonious. Fleetingly the teen darling of the Kop, Sterling was now Judas. Public enemy number one.

Jeers turned to guffaws as Jurgen Klopp’s Reds thumped Manuel Pellegrini’s City and Sterling 4-1 in the Premier League that November, but he moved to Manchester to win trophies. Now he could seal one, sweetly at Liverpool’s expense.

Silva’s ball across the box deflected, still falling favourably for Sterling. But he snatched a simple chance and skewed horribly wide. He lay momentarily face down on the turf before springing up and trotting back into position with a telling grimace.

Philippe Coutinho equalised before second-choice goalkeeper Willy Caballero was City’s shoot-out hero. Sterling did not take a penalty. He had his trophy, but City had won despite and not because of him.

Raheem Sterling looked like a champion in waiting.

The teenager still had so much to do when he received Luis Suarez’s pass on that sun-kissed Anfield afternoon. Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart were led a merry dance and Sterling slotted home, sparking pandemonium in the Kop.

The goal set in motion a stirring 3-2 win for Liverpool over Manchester City that seemingly placed one of Steven Gerrard’s hands on the Premier League trophy. Ultimately, City would best Brendan Rodgers’ swashbuckling side in the final week to be crowned 2013-14 champions.

It did little to temper Sterling’s burgeoning reputation. His 11 goals in all competitions secured a starting berth for England at the 2014 World Cup, where he was a shining light of a forgettable campaign. A star had been born.

Raheem Sterling looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him up.

His performance in England’s opening 1-1 draw against Russia at the Euro 2016 drew a now grimly familiar stream of criticism.

Early in the anticipated all-British showdown with Wales in Lens, Adam Lallana found space on the right – much like Silva at Wembley four months earlier.

Sterling darted towards the centre of the box but skewed a left-footed effort horribly over. There he was again. Face down on the turf, springing up, grimacing.

England beat Wales 2-1 but crashed out of the tournament against Iceland by the same scoreline. Sterling won an early penalty, converted by Wayne Rooney in Saint-Etienne, but was then subsumed within a performance that should only have existed in his and his team-mates’ worst nightmares.

Part of a collective failure, Sterling – or “footie idiot Raheem” as one tabloid crassly labelled him – bore an unfair and torrid brunt of the fallout.

A week before that noise reached its baying crescendo the phone rang.

“As long as you work for me, I’ll fight for you,” incoming Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola told Sterling, who was dropped by England following his Wales nightmare.

It marked the start of one of the most enriching player-coach relationships of recent years. In Guardiola’s first year at the helm, Sterling’s form was City’s in microcosm. Thrilling, brimming with potential but frustratingly inconsistent.

The jury remained out, with 10 goals and 21 assists across all competitions in 2016-17 not a handsome enough return to justify his price tag.

Still Guardiola cajoled, encouraged and praised. Sterling was working and the Catalan was fighting for him. Their efforts have paid dividends this season.

City have won 20 of 22 unbeaten games in the Premier League and qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League as group winners. Sterling is their top scorer in both competitions, an indispensable part of Europe’s most vibrant attack.

He is also City’s clutch player, with stoppage-time winners against Bournemouth and Southampton not much later than late efforts to steal the points versus Huddersfield and Feyenoord.

On each of the 18 occasions he has found the net this season, the naysayers have dwindled. Those driven by understandable partisan pride at Anfield will boo him again when City visit Liverpool on Sunday. Others who jeered him at grounds across the country, spuriously informing a youthful footballer he had “let his country down”, are no longer so visible.

Sterling has faced more vitriol than any 23-year-old pursuing the profession of his dreams should ever reasonably expect, even before we consider he was the victim of a racist attack in the hours before City played Tottenham last month.

This gifted, impressive young man simply got brilliantly on with his job. It was impossible to spot any adverse effects of the earlier ordeal when he scored twice in a 4-1 thumping of Spurs.

Perhaps the most telling part of those lowest moments at Wembley and Euro 2016 was how quickly Sterling picked himself up off the turf.

A turbulent, engrossing and – rarely through any fault of his own – sometimes regrettable early career journey, lands back on Merseyside once again this weekend.

Now, more than ever, Raheem Sterling looks like a champion in waiting.

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Newcastle United 0 Manchester City 1: Sterling sends leaders 15 points clear

Manchester City made it 18 wins in a row in the Premier League with a 1-0 procession against Newcastle United on Wednesday.

Raheem Sterling’s 13th league goal of the season secured the result for Pep Guardiola’s side and sent them 15 points clear of Manchester United at the top.

The only negative for the visitors was the loss of captain Vincent Kompany to injury early in the first half, the centre-back going off with a suspected calf problem.

The slender scoreline belied what was one of City’s most comfortable victories of an astounding campaign, with Newcastle offering almost no resistance despite having lost their previous four league matches at home.

Rafa Benitez made five changes to the side that beat West Ham last time out, with his line-up including Rolando Aarons – who had not started in the league all season – and Paul Dummett, making his first appearance in the top flight since the opening day loss to Tottenham.

Sergio Aguero twice hit the post before Sterling at last made City’s dominance count in the 31st minute, but despite their total control of the game from then on they could not add to the scoreline.

Newcastle barely threatened in the closing stages, meaning they remain just a point outside the relegation zone in 15th, while City tightened their grip on the title and are one victory short of matching Bayern Munich’s record for Europe’s top divisions of 19 wins in succession.

Jonjo Shelvey tried a shot straight from kick-off, before the whole Newcastle side dropped into their defensive third to stem the expected early tide of City attacks.

Aguero could have scored after only six minutes, turning Fernandinho’s cross onto the outside of the right-hand post, and the fact Guardiola introduced Gabriel Jesus for the injured Kompany 11 minutes in highlighted the lack of ambition from the home side.

Despite the defensive blow for City, Newcastle continued to draw every player back towards their penalty area in a bid to frustrate the visitors, but Rob Elliot had to make a brilliant reaction save to keep out an Aguero header before the Argentine rattled the woodwork again with a strike from the edge of the area.

The resistance did not last much longer. Kevin De Bruyne sent a sublime pass over the top of the home defence and into the path of Sterling, who prodded the ball in off the left-hand post past the helpless Elliot.

The goal temporarily sparked Newcastle into life and it took a timely header off the line from Nicolas Otamendi to keep out Aarons’ chip, but Sterling would have added a second goal prior to the break were it not for another good Elliot save.

Indeed, City enjoyed 83.4 per cent possession in the first half and their monopoly of the ball continued after the break, with Sterling fashioning an opening before bending a shot just wide, while De Bruyne made a mess of a one-on-one.

The Belgian then blasted a low shot off the post from 25 yards and Aguero turned in the rebound, only for the offside flag to deny him a goal.

Substitute Dwight Gayle was booked for a dive when he threatened to race clear on Ederson’s goal and sent an 89th-minute header wide as Newcastle made late attempts to equalise, but they could not stop City taking another step towards a title triumph that is beginning to look like a foregone conclusion.

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Manchester City 4 Bournemouth 0: Aguero inspires emphatic win

Manchester City’s astonishing winning run stretched to 17 games with a 4-0 hammering of Bournemouth at the Etihad Stadium, as record-breaker Sergio Aguero stole the show with a double.

Pep Guardiola’s side could perhaps be accused of not reaching their usual lofty standards, but Bournemouth rarely appeared capable of punishing any complacency and once Aguero – who is reportedly unhappy with his coach’s rotation policy – opened the scoring, there was no looking back.

City looked particularly sluggish at times in the first half, though it still was not surprising when they took the lead just before the half-hour mark, as Aguero nodded in his 100th goal at the Etihad, the perfect tonic for any Guardiola grievances.

The hosts tightened things up in the second half and looked a far more focused unit, especially after doubling their lead through Sterling, who scored his seventh goal in five games against the Cherries.

Aguero doubled his tally for the day 11 minutes from time with another well-taken header to round off an impressive performance from the Argentinian.

And Danilo added their fourth late in the day with his first goal for the club, as City go to within two victories of the longest winning run ever in Europe’s top five leagues and 14 points clear of Manchester United, who face Leicester City later on Saturday.

Despite City’s attempts to monopolise possession, Bournemouth will have been happy with their start, as they went close to the opening goal in the 10th minute.

Adam Smith darted up the right flank and delivered a cross, pulling it back towards the edge of the area where Junior Stanislas was waiting to volley just wide of the right-hand post.

City eventually crafted their first opportunity 10 minutes later, as Aguero latched on to Nicolas Otamendi’s lofted pass and put his effort over.

He found his range shortly after, though, steering a stooping header into the bottom-left corner from Fernandinho’s cross after being left completely unmarked.

But Bournemouth finished the first half well and threatened to equalise just before the break.

Ryan Fraser’s pass in behind City’s defence forced Ederson to rush off his line and make a tackle on the edge of the area, knocking the ball to Kyle Walker, who passed it straight to Callum Wilson, only for Otamendi to make an important last-ditch intervention.

City appeared much sharper all over the pitch upon the restart, affording Bournemouth even fewer opportunities to attack.

And their second goal in the 53rd minute effectively ended the visitors’ already slim chances.

David Silva – back after missing the last two games for personal reasons – found Aguero on the edge of the box and the striker flicked a fine pass into the area for Sterling to collect and slot past Asmir Begovic.

City’s control on proceedings only seemed to increase after that goal and they added a third for good measure in the 79th minute – Aguero heading in Bernardo Silva’s fine cross.

Danilo then rounded things off late on, sweeping a left-footed effort inside the left-hand post after a fine run and pass from the electric Sterling.

Key Opta facts:

– Manchester City became the first top-flight team to score 100 goals in a calendar year since Liverpool in 1982 (106)
– Bournemouth failed to score in three consecutive Premier League games for the first time since January 2016.
– City extended their winning run to 17 Premier League games. Within Europe’s big five leagues, only one side has ever enjoyed a longer winning streak – Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in 2013-14.
– City’s current winning run is one more victory than Bournemouth have picked up in total in the Premier League since the start of last season (16).